The market has spoken, and the 2021 Mazda6 must shoulder the consequences. This third-generation sedan has been around since 2012, but familiarity has hardly dulled its handsome styling. Graceful curves and tasteful applications of chrome combine with excellent 19-inch alloy wheels on this Carbon Edition model; there’s not really a bad angle, which is more than you can say for a lot of the sedan competition out there.
Mazda has big changes and tough decisions ahead, though, not to mention an arguably-overdue embrace of electrification. For the Mazda6, it means an end to sales of the sedan in the US beyond the 2021 model year.
It is of course both understandable – sensible, even – and frustrating, in nearly equal measure. Sedans have long been dwindling in popularity, with SUVs and crossovers seeing far more demand and no signs of that changing. Sales of the Mazda6 are a fraction of the automaker’s CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs, and you can’t even accuse those models of being underwhelming to drive. Mazda, unlike many of its peers, hasn’t neglected enthusiasm even as it loads up on practicality.
Keen drivers knew, though, that the shapely sedan was even better from behind the wheel, and this 2021 Mazda6 Carbon Edition does nothing to disabuse that notion. Mazda has two engines, a base 2.5-liter inline-4 with 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, which is perfectly satisfactory, and a much more entertaining 2.5-liter turbo-4. That nudges power to 250 horsepower and cranks torque up to a whopping 320 lb-ft when supplied with 93 octane gas.
Even on pedestrian 87 octane fuel, you’re still looking at a healthy 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. That’s a frankly lavish quantity of power for a car with a $32,800 (plus $945 destination) sticker.
You might suspect that Mazda’s six-speed automatic transmission would be the weak spot, down as it is on a ratio or three compared to what’s de rigueur elsewhere right now. Perhaps a seventh gear would make for even more sedate highway cruising, but I can’t say I missed it generally. Downshifts are prescient in their timeliness; upshifts slur away hardly noticeably.
The turbo-4 isn’t the most characterful engine in sound, but combined with Mazda’s excellent tuning and suspension setup you can’t fault the Mazda6’s performance. Handling is flat and even, composed even when pushed, and the steering shows the same consideration of weight and responsiveness that you’d find in an MX-5 Miata. Perhaps most impressive of all, Mazda doesn’t even need fancy adaptive suspension or similar trickery to do it: there’s a Sport mode, but it mainly just tweaks the shift patterns and throttle response.
Indeed that honesty holds throughout the rest of the Mazda6 experience. The cabin is restrained, with comfortable seats to offset the slightly firmer-than-average ride. A little extra rear legroom would be nice, but it’s still adult-scale back there, and there’s 14.7 cu-ft of trunk space plus a 60/40 split rear bench.
I like Mazda’s dashboard, too, which eschews gimmicks in favor of a more timeless design. Sensibly laid-out buttons, soft-touch plastics, and leather heated and cooled front seats in this Carbon Edition trim all punch above the sedan’s price. Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay are standard now, though the 8-inch touchscreen atop the dashboard looks a little small compared to what rivals are offering.
The fact that Mazda locks out the touch control while you’re moving, too – forcing you to use the knob in the center console instead – feels like a safety play that ignores the fact we’re all quicker with touchscreens these days anyway.
Adaptive cruise control, blind spot warnings, lane keep assist and lane departure warnings, rear cross traffic alerts, and emergency brake assistance are all standard on the Carbon Edition. So, too, are heated rear seats, a leather heated steering wheel, and dual-zone climate control.
There’s no hybrid option, however, nor an all-wheel drive version, and Mazda’s fuel economy is only reasonable. The EPA rates the Mazda6 for 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined. You’ll get 30+ mpg from Honda’s Accord or Hyundai’s Sonata in their turbo forms, though admittedly you’ll sacrifice power in the process.
2021 Mazda6 Carbon Edition Verdict
The downside to being the best-kept secret in engaging and affordable sedans is that secrets don’t sell so well. I suspect, even had Mazda been shouting from the rooftops about the Mazda6’s undeniable charms, it still would have struggled against the relentless growth of SUVs. All the same, it’s hard not to be salty about what we’re losing out on.
The 2021 Mazda6’s charm is in its personality. It may not be perfect, but it engages like sports sedans considerably more expensive, and belies the idea that family cars must be earnestly placid and dull. Like the old “Zoom Zoom” slogan it may be retiring, but Mazda’s focus on attainable performance is hopefully here to stay.